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Ranch owners fight pipeline in Nine Mile Canyon

Published: Tuesday, April 26 2011 4:10 p.m. MDT

NINE MILE CANYON  — A handful of ranch owners in Nine Mile Canyon have been doing battle with a natural gas drilling company over its plans to put in a pipeline.

Although the Bureau of Land Management signed off on plans by Bill Barrett Corp. to extract natural gas in the West Tavaputs Plateau, the proposed pipeline would be located on private property and outside the agency's purview.

Because the pipeline is on private property, property owners argue its installment is not subject to the same environmental review or other stringent considerations, and they have been left with little or no options in making it move somewhere else.

"A private company can come in and condemn private property," absent of any substantial government oversight, said Steven Hansen, one of the owners of the Sekani property which is known as the "Lower Ranch" at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon.

Hansen and other owners asked Gov. Gary Herbert to intervene, and despite several letters and at least one meeting, the issue has not been resolved.

Bill Barrett Corp. is seeking to condemn a three-quarter mile segment of land through the Lower Ranch for a 20-inch pipeline that needs be in the ground by Dec. 1.

“The pipeline route they have chosen will damage our irrigation system, disrupt our haying operations, will likely impact archaeological resources and will compromise the overall integrity of this unique outdoor museum,” Hansen said.

Hansen, on the board of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, said the company could have chosen a route on adjacent federal lands that would not impact the ranch, or the canyon.

“There are numerous viable alternatives to BBC’s proposal that would restrict the pipeline entirely to public lands outside of Nine Mile Canyon,” Hansen said. “Condemnation of private land should not be allowed when options on public land exist, or simply because it’s easier and less costly.”

Those alternatives would require the pipeline to go around the canyon and instead travel on top of the plateau, dropping down near one of the company's operations.

"There is plenty of room on the plateau that is already part of the industrial corridor where it could be dropped directly into the backyard of their compressor station," said Jerry Vaculin, another property owner.

But one of Bill Barrett Corp.'s senior vice presidents, Hunt Walker,  explained in an April 15 letter to Hansen that extensive research was done on the viability of choosing an alternative route.

In addition to a review by in-house engineers and environmental staff, Walker said the company hired four outside engineering and construction companies to analyze various routes. Three environmental consulting groups also were retained to assess the effects the alternative routes would have on "view-sheds, archeological and wildlife resources, as well as the potential for successful reclamation."

The two months of review, which included field trips for first-hand-looks, led to the conclusion that the route that crosses a segment of the Lower Ranch property "is the most feasible from a construction perspective and the least impactful to environment of all the routes we analyzed," according to the letter.

That communication was followed up by a property owners' request to the governor's office for some sort of intervention, but Hansen and Vaculin are not optimistic anything will change.

Bill Barrett Corp. is now threatening legal action through eminent domain and the property owners say there is little they can do to stop it, short of legal action of their own. While they will receive "compensation" for the property seized under eminent domain, Hansen said they can do practically nothing to force the pipeline's location elsewhere.

He added that what is most disheartening is the wide latitude given private companies in condemnation actions, outside a cursory courtroom examination.

"They'll be coming down through our place and Nine Mile Canyon because it is the cheapest and easiest way," Hansen said, "and we believe that is not the way to handle it."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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